Voluntary suspension of raven cull is meaningless greenwash

Further to this morning’s news that the scientific justification behind SNH’s raven cull licence has been deemed ‘completely inadequate’ and that the gamekeepers have now undertaken a ‘voluntary suspension’ of the cull, this deserves more comment.

If you haven’t already done so, we urge you to read SNH’s Scientific Advisory Committee’s (SAC) review of the science behind this raven cull licence. It is utterly and comprehensively damning of the so-called scientific justification and the methods employed.

It includes phrases such as ‘completely inadequate’, ‘will fail to provide any meaningful scientific evidence’, ‘the methodology cited has not been followed’ and ‘seriously flawed’. In fact, the word ‘flawed’ appears seven times in this report!

Read it HERE

Given that SNH issued this licence under the guise of it being ‘research’, the SAC’s condemnation of the ‘research’ methods and predicted ‘research’ outcomes should surely be enough for SNH to revoke this licence immediately.

But SNH hasn’t done this.

Instead, we learn that the gamekeepers have ‘voluntarily suspended’ the cull. That is quite a different beast to SNH suspending (or revoking) the licence.

In essence, the raven cull licence is still active, and will be until it expires on 31 December 2018 (unless SNH decides to revoke it). This means that the gamekeepers could abandon their voluntary suspension of the cull at any given time (because a voluntary suspension is not legally binding) and they could begin killing ravens again whenever they like and nobody could stop them because they’d still be operating under the terms of the licence.

Look at the contempt shown by the grouse shooting industry to calls for ‘voluntary restraint’ on mountain hare culling. The industry claimed it was cooperating but evidence on the ground suggested otherwise (e.g. see here).

SNH is not seriously asking us to trust the word of gamekeepers, surely?

What on earth is SNH playing at?

This ‘seriously flawed’ and ‘completely inadequate’ raven cull research licence needs to be revoked with immediate effect. SNH cannot possibly justify doing anything else.

31 thoughts on “Voluntary suspension of raven cull is meaningless greenwash”

  1. Wow, it’s damning isn’t it? “All SAC members have contributed to, and have agreed, the wording of this review.”
    “Conflicts of Interest: Dr Hyland and Professor Furness noted they are Board members. ”
    Even board members of SNH are against the cull. What is going on in SNH?
    Well, here’s a guess. SNH wish to appeal to GWCT and it’s backers, and could not give a toss for it’s mandate if that allows them to follow the cue of Natural England.
    I can’t wait to find out if the Court also back the NE way or the review members’ way. It could go either way.
    The senior people at SNH have chosen their bed. Did they choose it carefully enough? Will the review members on the board be satisfied with the actions of SNH since the review? Time will tell, and we may yet learn the outcome.

  2. A very interesting response from SNH Scientific Advisory Committee I have been complaining for months with these arguments with little response. Thus relieved to see they have started to address this situation.

    They quote a few times Amar et al 2010 about ravens and waders – they do seem obsessed with predator control as opposed to looking at Amar et al 2011 “Exploring the relationships between wader declines and current land-use in the British uplands” which states habitat management is linked to wader declines rather than predation:
    “For Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus and Eurasian Curlews Numenius arquata, there was an association between declines and broad-scale vegetation cover; declines being greatest on heather-dominated plots.”

    Now this is something the grouse moor owners will not like either

    Habitat management is much more important and needs to be addressed but they seem obsessed with predation

    1. Have been paying my mum a visit for the past couple of days and yesterday looked out at horror at fields I’ve known for 30 plus years that have been ploughed, by the looks of it fertilised and had rye grass sown. Previously rough grazing with rushes, flowers and occassional bushes. Now it looks like plastic grass from corner to corner. I doubt if there’s one single flower in this new, ‘improved’ grazing the difference is shocking. A grant must have been made available for this – a lot of effort and money for low productivity land at a time when we have a national obesity crisis and throw away several millions tonnes and billions of pounds worth of avoidable food waste every year in the UK. If there were ever waders there they’ll be gone now. Intensifying ‘management for driven grouse shooting doesn’t sound if it’s any better for them either – http://www.christownsendoutdoors.com/2014/05/the-devastation-of-eastern-highlands.html

  3. The strangest feature of this matter is that the scientific justification for a licence to undertake an otherwise illegal activity did not go before the Scientific Advisory Committee (or a special subcommittee) before the decision to grant or reject the licence. Why have a SAC if it is not consulted about science?
    Congratulations to the committee for reaching a clear conclusion and for doing so in such restrained tones.

  4. The hegemonic power which flows through the hierarchy of one of our primary organisations charged with protecting our natural resources appears to have taken a step too far. Though they appear to have brushed aside concerns over mountain hares and gained unjustified levels of compensation for those who claim to be affected by sea eagle losses to their flocks, they have been publically embarrassed into this u turn by the hard facts of science.
    A quick look at the make-up of the Board at SNH and the professional backgrounds of it’s members (https://www.nature.scot/about-snh/who-we-are/our-board/board-members ) illustrates the low priority given to all things natural and the high priority given to business concerns. One wonders the precise nature of the relationship between some of these people and other successful businessmen, hedge fund owners and merchant bankers who own grouse moors and whether some form of bias might exist. It is extremely difficult to understand why a majority of the Board ignored all scientific evidence to the contrary and gave their permission to cull ravens on what appears to mostly comprise of a large grouse moor? Answers on a postcard, please!
    The fact that they have not rescinded the cull and simply agreed a “voluntary suspension” in the face of this report without issuing a reason speaks volumes. This suspension comes only a few days after gamekeeper Ronnie Kippen called it a huge success…. but his words are now seen by many as mendacious given the unanimous verdict of the scientific experts in this field. What are we to compare his claims with … his recall?
    There is no doubt in my mind that our grouse moors are under continued assault by ecologically destructive concerns who,realising the dangert they are in, are now engaged in a propaganda war against the forces of true conservation.

  5. I have now read through the SNH board response. I think that it is important to note that the board is a largely a bunch of politically appointments.
    While the SAC say that there needs to be a justification to support the identification of ravens as being the most significant impact on wader populations, the SNH board ignore this in their response. They simply drive forward on the auld wives tale that ravens are the prime target.
    SNH then go on to say that bringing BTO into the project is key. Why should BTO allow themselves to get drawn into this murky project which involves killing specially protected birds when it can not be shown that the specially protected birds are actually a significant factor? I think their reputation will take a significant dent unless this major flaw is addressed.

    1. I assume that the board members on this committee will have some scientific credentials and therefore not be likely to be so swayed by the SGA and GWCT (the dark side?) combination as other members.

      1. There is only one properly qualified ecological scientist on the SNH board. The general qualification seems to be an ability to parrot the word yes. From their online cv’s you would be pushed to find evidence that they were even enthusiastic amateur naturalists! The chair seems to be obsessed with tartan tat , branding and self promotion. And swans around in a shooting jacket. Hence the almost complete loss of credibility.

  6. When the news of the cull broke on here I, like many, saw it as move by the anti predator lobby to destroy ravens. Having made that the aim it then was merely a case of finding some sort of guise to justify that action because the truth was the last reason that could be used. SNH came to their rescue, but not with any scientific basis or any sensible basis whatsoever. It was more a case of “kill the ravens then see what happens”.

    Some of the people in SNH must be inept if they thought chicanery would produce a supportable reason for killing ravens. I would say that SNH have demonstrated that they are not to be trusted.

    I do not know how, or if, Holyrood is involved. However, given the way that SNH has behaved it looks like they are not under proper control.

    “O, what a tangled web we weave when first we practise to deceive.” W. Scott.

  7. I have found an article on the BBC website about this.
    It says:
    “An advisory group to oversee the project will be established with members including the British Trust for Ornithology and the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust.”
    That is interesting. Clearly they are going ahead, to adjust the “trial”. Does the BTO know? I’d like to know that, for interest.

    1. the BTO is a membership organisation. Their members may have their own views on the wisdom of their organisation involving itself in this crock…

  8. Culling birds is yet another money making scam. I use the word scam as that’s exactly what it is! No evidenced based research has materialised to justify any cull of corvids. What other reason than money making could possibly be behind this?!

  9. I agree with David’s comments regarding land use in the British Uplands. Ed Lawrence from United Utilities was interviewed about the work done at Dovestones to improve the habitat for wildlife. By re-wetting the moors there was an increase in Tipula larvae and other invertebrates that Waders rely on. Within 10 years Dunlin increased by 0 pairs to 37 and both Golden Plover and Curlew by more than 100%.
    This was done with NO PREDATOR CONTROL whatsoever.
    S.N.H have had their credibility taken away. I believe a public apology is in order and the cull license revoked immediately.

  10. I sincerely hope that the application for a judicial review goes ahead and is successful. With so many unanswered questions and so little apparent accountability for their decisions at SNH this needs as much exposure and expert scrutiny as possible.

  11. You said it yourselves, “What on earth is SNH playing at?” Unfortunately I can’t divulge my honest thoughts, for fear of being censored by RPUK, but the most I can say is that as the picture builds, the evidence suggesting some degree of collusion between SNH and the shooting lobby is gradually coming to light. In my part of west central Scotland, the grave concern over breeding waders, so successfully promoted by the wader lovers of Strathbaan, does not reflect the minimal efforts made by SNH to do anything to truly help the birds. Renfrewshire alone is down to its last breeding pair of Redshank, and a population of around 400 pairs of Lapwing has over the past twenty years fallen to only 10-20 pairs. The populations of both species in Lanarkshire, formerly a few hundred pairs of Redshank and over a thousand pairs of Lapwing, have diminished even more severely in percentage terms. One thing is sure, and that is that Ravens have played no significant part in these declines, as observed by those highly active SOC members in the Clyde Valley. Curlew numbers are more difficult to place a figure on, but they too have declined as part of the national state of affairs. As for SNH’s lack of any discernible action, we note their lack of uptake of research conclusions, which reveal modern (some might say ruthless) agricultural changes as being largely responsible. And of course, this doesn’t only apply to waders; even Rooks, Carrion Crows and Starlings are in steep decline. A few simple measures, on as many farms as possible, could significantly restore breeding wader numbers. These include restoration of farm ponds and the installation of wider and shallower open drainage schemes, as well as preventing vast areas of new forestry (often called ‘community woodlands) springing up on many lowland wet pastures, which in the process leads to the loss of many Snipe territories. I realise there are issues concerning animal husbandry, but believe that measures to control disease and infestation could be adequately implemented in this ‘modern’ agricultural world. However, don’t start me on the huge growth in agricultural and garden pesticide sales…. ‘Silent Spring’ coming all over again.

    1. Apparently France has banned the use of pesticides for the garden. I really hope this is true, biocides should never ever be used for anything as trivial as pretty flowers and foliage. Aldi have got a scheme with the RSPB where monies raised from disposable bag charges go to helping kids get in touch with nature. Great except that at my local Aldi they had a big section dedicated to slug pellets, weed killer and traps to kill insects in the garden (!?!) – selling some fat balls for blue tits doesn’t really compensate, there’s nothing to help wildlife in the garden apart from bird feed. As I’ve mentioned here and on Mark Avery’s blog I’ve just experienced some drastic agricultural ‘improvement’ close to home, just by turning my head as I type this I can see the terrible contrast between old and ‘improved’ grazings, the latter is as much a monoculture as a field of wheat. If you have a population that is blissfully unaware or just doesn’t care then it’s all too easy for some clots to come along and say that the problem is due to wildlife itself – species are rare because they are being eaten by other ones that need us to control them, rather than blame ourselves of course.

  12. Is this Voluntary Suspension anything like the supposed restraint they were supposed to show the Mountain Hare ? ie just carry on Killing .Makes you wonder how many Ravens have and are still being killed ! we will probably never know ! What a complete sham ! Looks like the SNH are the Scottish equivalent of uNatural England .

  13. I sympathise with most or all of the comments here, but if we focus in sharply, what do we find? Well nothing for certain, obviously but here are a few thoughts:
    – The issue of the licence, or not, is subject to some tightly drafted law. In my view, it is clear that the licence was not issued in conformity with that law. The findings of the Scientific Advisory Committee seem to me to confirm that beyond doubt – as a matter of law (because the law refers to the science);
    – Therefore SNH still don’t understand – seemingly at any level – that they have behaved unlawfully. To me, that’s a big problem;
    – Probably the Board had nothing to do with the original decision. I have no idea whether they are engaged now, but one sign of a weak organisation is that when the executive go wrong the Board don’t have the wherewithal quickly to put them to rights. That seems to me to be the case here. The Board, whether sensitive to environmental issues or otherwise should have stepped in and said ‘stop this nonsense now’. They have failed to do so;
    – There must, I think, be a problem with the executive. Given that the issue of the licence was so obviously improper, the person who signed it off should be sacked for gross incompetence. Every public servant should know the law that binds them and if they do not – or are willing to wholly disregard it – they are not fit to be employed in the public service;
    – The question of whether the improper decision was made because an individual was in some sense in hock to the ‘Strathbraan’ gamekeepers false flag is important but not fundamental. Our institutions should be robust against corruption, and that is the result we should seek though ensuring proper process.
    – Even so, there is an important question about senior management in SNH. They are surely caught in a double bind. If they knew about the original issue of the licence, why did they not question it? If they didn’t know, given the obvious political context, why not?
    – Beyond that, the shocking incompetence in managing the situation since the revelation of the issue of licence can only be placed with top management in SNH. They are still digging when the hole is already deep. Politicians have limited expectations of quangos, mainly to do with not creating avoidable noise. SNH have failed spectacularly and are still failing today. Heads will surely roll;
    – All this is reason to continue with the judicial review – though I’m bound to wonder whether SNH lawyers could possibly advise that the case is worth continuing. If they do continue it, the waste of public money adds to an already long charge-sheet.

    1. ‘Heads will surely roll’ Yes, I very much hope so but don’t bet on it! More likely there will be some shit about ‘Lessons being learnt’. I, personally, believe the decision to grant this licence came from the very top!

    2. Alan, I agree with most of your suggestions and insight to the workings of the Civil Service, and it would indeed be justified if heads did roll. But to me, the key question is “Will the head’s head roll?” I can prove nothing, but hold a very strong suspicion that someone at the top must have had… well, let’s say, “sympathies” with the right-wing element of the grouse shooting community (which amounts to almost all of them).

      I expect my daring reference to politics will raise a few eyebrows among the “keep politics out of it” brigade, but leaving UK party politics aside for a moment, I stand by my opinion. It has been formed through a lifetime of communicating with such people, ranging from the local gamekeeper to a notably proclaimed ‘international expert’ on grouse moor management, and even a personal one-to-one conversation with a senior member of the Royal family. I expressed my concern about hen harriers being killed on grouse moors, and the Royal person’s reply was… “Oh, I’m afraid WE don’t approve of hen harriers”! Recalling this reminds me of the Queen’s more recent remark to David Attenborough – “One can’t have crows nesting in view of the “hise”, so we called in a man to deal with them.”

  14. I wonder how Kernahan and Halfhide’s week is going ? Surely suspension and re-training would be the best outcome they could expect

  15. Do we know how many Ravens they’ve already shot this year under the licence? If they’ve already shot their quota, a ‘voluntary suspension’ at the present time is somewhat meaningless!

    1. There are reports that they’ve killed ~30 ravens so far. But this figure is unverified and with no independent scrutiny of the cull the figure could be accurate or more likely, not.

      1. Yes, but how many did they shoot last year, and the year before that, and the year before that, ………?

  16. SNH say they got the damning report at the end of June so its taken them a month to work out how to spin the story.
    But actually it must be less than that… the preamble to table 1 of their response boasts that their staff have already engaged in action to modify the project. There must have been meetings with the Strathbraan killing club and GWCT . (FOI minutes?).

    So after the tip-off/way forward planning, they probably waited another fortnight before going public. Could it be that they waited to the end of the killing season before going public? This would have had no impact on the Killing Club and might encourage them to volunteer to suspend their completed cull… ie if we wait till the end of the month we wont have to revoke the licence?

    The meetings with the Killing club etc were effectively a pre-publication tip-off to allow the SGA to rush out their faked good news of the “shed loads of curlews” – although the BBC story now translates the shed load to ” four fledged curlew chicks “. So the photo of the dodgy chick groper literally shows 50% of the entire output- allegedly achieved through the death of 30 ravens(could have been 69!). The scientific advisors make it explicitly clear that the Killing clubs methodology was so flawed that there is no way that any effect could be measured or recorded.

    The judicial review has to go ahead… we need to sort these people out.

  17. Public confidence in SNH must be at an all time low.

    What a complete disgrace…….and more to come.

    SNH clearly are not impartial and cannot be trusted.

  18. “Following concerns, SNH commissioned its Scientific Advisory Committee to review the methodology of the study. The Committee has found it to be inadequate to provide robust scientific conclusions and advised on ways in which the scientific rigour of the study can be improved.”

    So SNH informs us in its latest e-newsletter (https://www.snhpresscentre.com/news/update-on-strathbraan-licence-to-cull-ravens). Such an under-statement hiding so many sins. The term “Following concerns…” implies these concerns were purely internal, with no mention at all of the many thousands of signatures resulting from at least two public petitions. The second question is softened by the pretence that the methodology could ever present any scientific conclusions, never mind robust ones. The same sentence then goes on to send out a very worrying message, implying that a revised version of the methodology could be produced giving renewed permission for the cull. No suggestion that the study could be determined to be fundamentally flawed, or that a decision could move in the opposite direction by giving Ravens full protection, based upon the inevitable findings (if the study were genuinely robust), that Ravens are not actually harmful as alleged by certain interested parties.

    Will they really be… “Monitoring the full range of factors which could be impacting wader bird numbers and productivity”? I very much doubt if that were to include the FULL range, including the declining state of some Scottish estuaries in terms of over-winter survival, but time will tell. Too much investigation of the impact of agricultural changes on breeding waders, including loss of significant habitat and associated invertebrates, could well ruffle a few feathers in certain other government departments, not to mention commercial practitioners. Closed doors may well prevent us from discovering how policies are created or rejected, unless FOI comes to the rescue.

    “SNH has agreed to ensure these terms are part of any licenced raven control going forward and the SCCW have voluntarily suspended the cull until revised monitoring arrangements are i n place.” Who believes that ‘gentle persuasion’ has not been exerted by the heads of SNH upon the so-called ‘Strathbraan Community Collaboration for Waders’ generous offer to suspend their cull?

    I was disappointed in the statement accredited to the widely respected Professor Des Thompson (SNH), that…

    “Our Scientific Advisory Committee has provided us with a detailed assessment and very helpful pointers to further work at Strathbraan and more widely. In particular, the Committee notes that more needs to be done to understand the effects of predation by ravens and other factors in driving down wader numbers.

    “We need to learn from this trial, and the experience and knowledge gained, and move on to develop advice and support for action on the ground to benefit waders. Having a Scientific Advisory Group will be a huge help in developing the work.

    “SNH welcomes the decision by the Strathbraan Community Group to suspend the cull for the rest of this year.”

    This sounds to me to be partly scripted by someone other than Prof Thompson. The final sentence can be interpreted to give comfort, and a slight degree of reassurance to the Group that the matter may be ‘sorted’ to their satisfaction in due course. I’ll be happy if proved wrong; in the meantime I continue to be sceptical.

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